BELOW THE WHEEL – The Artist, The Artwork and The Marketing

Pictured: Kellie Stiles – Artist

When I published Angel with a Broken Wing last summer, I needed a cover for the book. I thought long and hard about what the image should be. I thought about the leading female character Jill standing in the desert in Palm Springs with Christian. There was that moment before he kisses her for the first time. Before she takes off her sunglasses and looks off to the horizon.

It suddenly struck me. I drew a picture like that my senior year in art major class in 12th grade. I still had the original artwork. It’s won awards in art shows and got me an A+ in that class.

I thought it would be perfect even though the image was 40 years old. It worked beautifully. The title and my name are on the kindle version but are not on the cover of the paperback. I figured let the artwork grab people’s attention rather than the title. The image was strong enough. Just a simple pen and ink in my signature style.  Let’s have a Beatles White Album, Led Zeppelin IV moment, and just go with artwork only cover for my first work of fiction.

I had already published Phicklephilly, Phicklephilly II, Crazy Dating Stories, and the notorious and lurid, Sun Stories: Tales from a Tanning Salon. This was my first work of fiction to be published. Like every aspect of my life, I needed to make it cool. No name and no title. Just leave it on the spine of the book.

Sales were robust thanks to the great following on my blog and fans from my previous non-fiction work published years before.

But for my second work of fiction, (and maybe my last!) I wanted to do something different. Below the Wheel had a totally different vibe and tone from Angel with a Broken Wing. It held darker subjects inside its heart.

During covid in 202o, the only woman I saw, other than my sisters and daughter was my daughter’s friend, Kellie. She’s a great girl and a dear friend of my daughter’s, so we sort of think of her as a part of the family after 2020.

One day, she presented us with a little painting she did of an Ewok from Star Wars. I like how she took a well-known character from popular culture and kind of gave him a psychedelic vibe he never had on Endor. I really liked it, and we hung it up in our gallery of other artwork in the living room. He was in good company with Jeff Buckley, George Carlin, Paris Hilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, Christine Aguilera, Alessandra Ambrosio, and several other famous people we’ve met over the years.

Here he is.

He’s got crazy eyes and a Clutch Cargo mouth, and it looks like this little dude is on some kind of mushroom trip.

I liked it, and having no idea what the cover of my next book should be, I asked Kellie if she was interested in maybe doing the cover for a book I was working on, called Below the Wheel.

She liked the idea of the story and the opportunity to create something new. I gave her a synopsis of the story and sent her some images I found on the internet that seemed to capture the imagery of the book I was writing.

I didn’t know how it would turn out but was happy I could work with a friend of the family who could paint. I had looked at the work of some other artists I knew but their work just didn’t seem right for what I wanted and lacked any voice.

This was back in the Fall of 2020 when we talked about this work. So, this has been cooking for a while.

I toiled away with the writing, editing, clean-up, cutting, and production of my next book.  The Winter passed, and as we came into Spring of 2021, Kellie was close to completing the cover.

I thought maybe she would do a little painting the size of a comic book. But Kellie actually painted a 3-foot by 2-foot painting in oil on a canvas.  The real deal. A painting you could hang on your wall.

An actual work of art.

I was worried that the size and scope of what she was trying to create was just too big a task for her. But 3 weeks before the deadline, she pulled up in front of my house in Rittenhouse and hauled out this giant painting from the back of her truck.

I was blown away at the sheer size and detail of what she created. At first glance at the painting, I realized she had captured what I saw in my mind of what the cover should look like for this book.

I never gave her tons of details, but she was somehow able to capture what I saw in my mind. A dark city street with a lady of the night soliciting a motorist on Broadway in Camden, NJ. (She used special reflective paint for the car’s finish) The darkness that falls over the scene cut only by the streetlights. The sad cityscape beyond that image. City Hall slightly bent just like the government in Camden that no longer cares for the people of that dying city. The last orange light of dusk before darkness falls on the city and consumes it and its denizens of the night.

Plus, she left space at the top and bottom for the title and my name, so yea… great composition! Well done, Kellz!

Easter egg: If you look closely, there’s a little guy standing on the roof of one of the buildings. Cool detail!

So, after 8 months we have the cover of the book. Below the Wheel is now a reality. I’m happy that Kellie will now have her work on the cover of a published book, copyrighted, and registered in the United States Library of Congress.

You can find her at thelookofkellz on Instagram. Follow this talented lady!

Stop by, follow, and check out her artwork. She’s an amazing lady I’ve written about on occasion in this blog.

We’re happy Kellie’s in our lives. Whether she likes it or not, we’ve sort of adopted her as our own. Our home is full of sunny smiles when she and my daughter are here together.

I’ll miss them both when my daughter moves out in a few months.

Here are the posts I wrote about Kel last year. (I always use fake names and avatars to protect people’s rights, but for this post we want people to know the artist!)

Trivia: I named her after Jodie Foster’s character, Iris in the film Taxi Driver.

Iris – Quarantine Girl

Iris – Happy Birthday, Papa Squirrel

Here’s Kellie! Hire her for your next artistic endeavor!

The Painting

We’re going to find a special place in our home to hang this up! Thank you, Kellie!

The Marketing

I’m no stranger to Instagram, but I’m new to making Stories. I only recently sort of figured it out. But I think I was able to come up with some compelling images to promote the new book.

I worked in advertising and marketing for 10 years here in Philly, and only learned how to write good copy in the last year of my time at Philly Weekly. It really paid off! I think a few of these look really cool!

I ran all of these on social media during the two weeks leading up to the publication of Below the Wheel.

I hope you like my latest offering. It’s a hard-boiled, crazy detective story full of twists and turns. This will be the last book I ever write like this.

The next two books will be historic pieces from my youth growing up in Philly and my summers in Wildwood.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Excerpt From My New Book – BELOW THE WHEEL

My new novel, Below the Wheel, will publish and be available for sale on Amazon Kindle and paperback on June 22nd!

 

Here’s a sneak peek of the book.

You can read it here:

Excerpt from New Book – BELOW THE WHEEL

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Angel with a Broken Wing – Chapter 3

My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.

 

THREE

The next morning, Christian stood in his kitchen looking out at the snow as he ground some beans for coffee. He dumped the grounds into the coffee machine and turned it on. He put on his jacket and went outside. The cold sun shone brightly in the winter sky and glistened on the ice that covered the trees in his yard. His boots crunched and squeaked in the snow that covered his property. He unlocked the garage and went inside. Sitting on the floor against the wall were the two suitcases and the briefcase. He picked up the case.

“I can use this.”

He placed it on the workbench and snapped it open. Inside it were papes and personal effects that belonged to his uncle John. He lifted out a stack of memos from Florida Electric. “He leaves me this thing and doesn’t even bother to clean it out.” He sifted through the pile and came across several old photographs. Pictures of his uncle with his mother and some with Christian as a kid. For the first time since his uncle’s death, he felt sad. He could feel the lump forming in his throat as he flipped through them. He wiped the tears from his eyes when he saw one of his uncle making sandcastles with him as a child on the beach. He carefully laid the photos to the side and continued to dig through the briefcase. He pulled out some letters and some old black and white photos. Most of them pictured people he didn’t know.

“Must have been long before my time.”

Christian looked at a faded, dog-eared photo of his uncle standing with another man. They were both wearing military uniforms. He flipped it over and written on the back were the following words:

ARMY BUDDIES. JOHN BARR AND HAROLD ASHEN, APRIL 27, 1969

It appeared to have been written by a woman. He put the photo with the others and reached for a book that lay in the flap inside the lid. Christian flipped through the small diary.

“It’s full of his poetry!”

Christian remembered when he was a kid, his uncle would send him a card on his birthday. It always contained a crisp five-dollar bill, and a little wry poem written by him for the occasion. 

He gently placed all of the items back into the briefcase and closed the lid. His interest piqued, he attempted to open one of the leather suitcases.

Locked.

He tried the other one. It too was securely locked.

“Typical. I get all of the poetry and none of the keys. Story of my life!”

Christian grabbed a screwdriver from his toolbox and popped the lock on the first suitcase. Inside was his uncle’s army uniform, assorted medals, a small travel kit with a razor, and a pair of glasses inside. Beneath all of that was an assortment of clothes.

“Why is all of this stuff still in here? Was he planning a trip before he died? What am I supposed to do with all of this stuff?”

Christian checked each of the three pockets that lined the inside of the suitcase.

The pockets contained the following items, a tie clip with the Yankee Clipper on it, three quarters, a pair of old cufflinks… and a loaded .44 caliber pistol.

“Jeez, Louise!”

 He held the heavy weapon in his trembling hand.

He took the gun into the house and gently laid it on the kitchen counter. He poured himself a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. Taking a sip, he gazed at the powerful firearm. A chill ran up his spine as he looked upon it. He blew a large cloud of smoke towards the ceiling as he stared at the firearm that now lay on his kitchen counter. It seemed so out of place in his neatly appointed house. The cold metal object silently screamed danger.

“I never owned a gun. I hate guns. It must have been my uncle’s service revolver during his tour of duty in Europe during World War II. Where have I seen a gun like this before?”

He focused his memory on the gun. He knew he’d heard of this kind of gun once in his past. But where?

His thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing. He placed the gun in a drawer and picked up the phone.

“Hello, Sheryl! How’s it going? Yea… I got back yesterday. You’d be surprised. No. No money! Just some stuff of his. Are you coming over? Cool. I got something to show you. Yeah…ok. No, it’s nothing bad. Alright. See you soon.”

Christian hung up the receiver, picked up his coffee mug, and went into the living room. He sat on the couch and stared at the fireplace. The flames lapped upward, dancing before him and warming the room. He took a sip from the cup of french vanilla and thought about Sheryl. He had met her in one of his psychology courses. He remembered how she almost looked like she didn’t belong in that class. While everyone else wore t-shirts and jeans, she was always dressed nicely. She sat dead center in the room, about three desks from the front. She probably came to class straight from her job at the mental health facility. 

Sheryl Lee Stanton was twenty-two. She had ice blue eyes and blonde hair, the color of sunshine on a warm afternoon. Her figure was voluptuous, and her skin was really creamy and fresh, like a child’s. She was very outgoing and liked to contribute her views whenever she was in class – which seemed like all of the time to Christian. But the most endearing aspect of Sheryl was that she loved to laugh. She also had a great wisecracking sense of humor.

Christian always sat at the front left corner desk in class. He would turn his desk on an angle so that he was pointed right at the professor, but still able to see the rest of the class. He was really impressed with Sheryl. She seemed to be the only one who genuinely enjoyed being there.

Christian got up and tossed another log on the fire, and got another cup of coffee. He thought about the first time he and Sheryl had ever gone out for drinks after class. They sat and talked for hours. He never imagined they would, but they really hit it off. After weeks of checking her out in class and wondering what she was like, he was a little surprised to find she was as sweet as he had imagined. She laughed a lot that night he thought, as he propped his feet up on the coffee table and leaned back on the sofa. He remembered how he watched her as she told some story, she’d speak very quickly and wiggle her cigarette between her fingers. He really had to pay attention! Half the time he would focus on her full lips. That pout had struck a chord in his heart. All of those times he would sit in class and look at her, he would always zero in on those plump lips.

Christian smiled and was taking another sip of coffee when there was a knock on his front door.

“It’s open, Sher!”

The door opened and the outer screen door banged shut as she quickly entered his home. 

“Hoo! It’s cold out there!”

“You look like a snow bunny fresh off the slopes of Telluride, dear.”

“Why can’t I be in Florida right now?” She removed her sunglasses.

“Just came from there. Really warm. It’s nice down there. I just wish it were under better circumstances.”

“Yea… I’m sorry.” She removed her heavy winter coat and hung it in on the rack in the corner.

“Well, he’s at peace now, right?”

“I guess.” She looked out the window at the snow-covered yard that led up to the adjacent golf course. 

The room fell silent. The kind of moment that if they hadn’t been such good friends, it would have been awkward.

“Nice fire and music! What are you listening to?”

“Windham Hill. I think they call it, New Age music.”

“Cool. What’s the song playing now?”

“It’s called Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter.”

“Nice. Very sweet.”

“Yea… good for a cold winter morning.”

“So… what’s happening?” She flopped on the couch across from him.

“Well, back from the funeral. My uncle left me some stuff.”

“Anything good?”

“Naaa…”

“So what’d you get?”

“A briefcase, some old luggage, and a car.”

“A car! Wow! What kind?”

Christian mumbled.

“I’m sorry Chris, I didn’t hear you.”

“I said, a Ford.”

“A Ford? A Taurus? A Thunderbird? What?”

“Go look for yourself.”

Sheryl pushed the back door open and went outside. She yanked the side door to the garage and went inside. Christian let the moment steam, as he envisioned her seeing the auto for the first time. He heard the sudden burst of laughter come from the garage, and then the sound of boots coming across the back porch. The door burst open. He sat motionless, staring at the fireplace. Sheryl stomped the snow from her boots on the mat by the door and joined him on the couch. She said nothing. After a few moments, he looked at her.

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

“About what?” Her pale eyes shone brightly.

“What about when you laughed?”

Sheryl began to smile. Her full lips parting to show Hollywood perfect teeth.

“Chris, that is the sorriest-looking car on the face of the Earth. I’m sorry, but it is. What the hell is that thing?”

“It’s a 1974 Ford Pinto. I don’t even know why my uncle left me that piece of junk. It doesn’t even run well.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve heard of that car. Maybe so you’d be ready for the next gas crisis?”

“No, really, Sher.”

“I don’t know, Chris. It’s an eyesore, though. What’s with the Phoenix?

“What Phoenix?”

“I saw the word,’ Phoenix’ etched into the back window.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

Minutes later they were both heading out to the garage to inspect the car.

“It really stinks of kerosene in here, Chris.”

“It’s the heater. Keeps the place warm when I’m out here working or playing my guitar.”

“Look here, Chris. Her dainty finger pointed to the back window of the vehicle.

Etched in the glass was a small picture of a flaming bird and underneath it was the word, Phoenix. 

“That’s weird. Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the stuff.” He sifted through the briefcase and the photos.

“Can I check out the car?”

“Be my guest.” He watched as Sheryl climbed into the car and slammed the door.

“This car sucks!” She played with the gearshift and cranked the wheel like a child.

“You’ve made that fact abundantly clear, dear. I’ll tell you what… You can have the damn thing, okay?”

“Really? This old thing might be an antique, mister!”

“Oh boy, I’m rich. Do you want to look through these suitcases or not? I still haven’t checked out the contents of this other one yet.”

“Alright. Can you at least open the garage door so I don’t pass out from that kerosene smell? It’s giving me a headache.”

“I never realized what an incredible pain in the ass you are, Sher.”

“I know. But you love me anyway.” She gave him one over her electric smiles.

“Yes, of course.” He lifted the latch and lifted the big garage door.

Sheryl got out of the car and walked over to the workbench where the suitcases lay. An icy wind blew through the garage.

“Now I’m going to freeze my ass off!”

“No, you’re not. Help me get this stuff inside. Grab that screwdriver for the other case. You know…I don’t even know why you called me, Sher. Had I known it was you I would never have answered the phone.”

“Oh, settle down, Chris. Let’s go.”

They hauled the suitcases inside and dropped them on the floor. They both stood by the fireplace to warm themselves.

“I can’t wait until Spring.” He tossed another log on the crackling hearth. He was about to sit down on the rug in front of the fire when Sheryl quipped.

“Would you be a dear and make me a cup of hot cocoa?”

Christian exhaled loudly and headed for the kitchen to boil some water. Sheryl took the screwdriver and jammed it behind the clasp on the other suitcase. She popped open the lock and looked inside.

“Hey, this one’s empty, Chris.”

“Really?” He pulled the packet of cocoa from the box on the shelf.

“There’s just a bunch of clothes and stuff in the other one.”

“Yea… except for this.”

Christian swaggered into the living room brandishing the .44 pistol.

“Go ahead… make my day.”

“Cool! Is it real?”

“Oh yes, my flaxen-haired friend.”

“Can I hold it?”

“Nope.”

“You’re a jerk, Christian. What kind of gun is it?”

“I’m glad you asked that, my dear. I was trying to remember where I had heard of this gun before you came over today, and it just struck me. This is one badass gun. Strictly manufactured for close-range anti-personnel. It was created to kill people, Sher. No wounding your adversary with this weapon. When fired the bullet begins to tumble end over end. So by the time it reaches its target, it blows a hole the size of a grapefruit in it. Very messy. I remember hearing about it for the first time back in August of 1977.

“Okay… I was seven years old, grandpa.”

“I was in Wildwood, New Jersey. I had just turned fifteen years old. I was walking a girl home I had met at the motel where I worked as a pool boy.”

“That’s cute. Did she pull a gun on you?”

“I was bringing her back from seeing the film, Star Wars. Seems like a long time ago now.”

“In a galaxy far, far away, right?”

“Shut up, Sher. I’m trying to tell a story here. Anyway, her name was Ann. Her last name sounded like ‘playback’ but it escapes me. She was from New York City. She had honey blonde hair and brown eyes. She was wearing white shorts, and a blue and white striped tube top. We used to call them boob tubes!”

“You’ve got quite a memory for the details, don’t you, Mr. Blackmore? Did she have a rich, deep tan, one can only achieve in the late August sun?”

“I think you’re jealous, Sher. But we can address that later. I can remember standing with her on the corner of 8th street and Ocean Avenue. I kissed her. She told me she was a little scared to go home to New York the next day. When I asked her why, she said, ‘because they haven’t caught the Son of Sam yet.’ The .44 caliber killer. Ann left the shore with her family the next morning. That evening the NYPD apprehended David Berkowitz. Ann was safe.”

“That’s a beautiful little story, Chris. You as the teenage rogue. Ann as the damsel in distress. Berkowitz as the serial killer. Sounds like some kind of twisted love triangle!”

“Why couldn’t my uncle have left me a Walther PK? That’s James Bond’s gun! No… I have to get the same kind of gun that some wacko used to shoot all of those couples in their cars in 1977! I hate guns!”

“Then put it away before you hurt yourself.”

“You’re right, Sher.” He returned to the kitchen.

“So we’ve got one suitcase full of old clothes and stuff, and the other one’s empty. They both look exactly alike except the empty one has the gold monogrammed letters on the front.”

“What monogram?”

“These.” Sheryl pointed to the letters. Who’s initials are, H.A.?”

“The only person that comes to mind is my uncle’s friend from his time in the military, Harold Ashen.”

“So, I guess this belonged to him. Then what was your uncle doing with his luggage?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he gave it to him.”

“Or, your uncle ripped him off!”

“I doubt it.” Christian stared at the monogrammed case. “Wait a second. H.A…. H.A. Ha, Ha! That’s it! That’s what my uncle meant! It wasn’t laughter in his Will. It was the initials on the suitcase!”

“What are you talking about, Chris?”

“I’ll explain it to you in a minute.” He returned to the kitchen and poured the contents of the packet of cocoa into the coffee mug.

“This is weird.” Sheryl began to fiddle with the raised monogrammed letters as she felt around inside of the empty suitcase.

“I know, right?” The water began to boil in the kettle and it wailed softly like the wind, and then grew louder and more shrill. 

“Maybe these buttons do something.”

“What buttons?” He hollered back from the kitchen as he reached for the screaming kettle.

Just as he switched off the burner, he heard a loud explosion. It was as if a bomb had gone off across the street. The concussion rattled the windows and he could hear car alarms going off out front on the street.

He ran from the kitchen and into the living room. Sheryl was getting to her feet.

“Sheryl… What the…?”

“Chris… I…”

He bolted out the back door and ran out into the driveway. Sheryl was right behind him carrying the suitcase. He looked down the sloping driveway and across the street. His eyes felt as though they were frozen open.

There across the street, smashed into a tree was the little Pinto. Flames gushed from its core and black smoke spiraled upward into the clear winter sky.

“Wow! They really do blow up!”

“Oh my God, Chris… It must have slipped out of gear and rolled down the driveway! I’m so sorry!”

“Jeezus!” He watched as the ruined Ford was devoured by fire.

Christian’s neighbors began to come out of their homes as he went to the garage and grabbed the phone on the wall to call the fire department.

“Damn! I can’t believe this!”

“Chris?”

“Man!” He turned his attention back to the raging inferno across the street.

“Chris.”

“Even the tires are melting, Sher! Look at that!”

“Chris…”

“I don’t… What is it, Sher?” He turned to her, annoyed.

“This.” She thrust the suitcase at him.

“Sher, we can examine this later.”

“Chris, the monogram. The gold letters. They turn. Turn the letters upside down.”

“What are you…?”

“Chris… Do it!” She slammed the suitcase down on the workbench in the garage. 

He grasped the gold letters and rotated them. They clicked and squeaked as he inverted the H and the A. What appeared to be some sort of false bottom inside the case, popped up revealing what could only be described as a secret compartment.

“What the…?”

“Yea… Go ahead. Lift it up.”

Christian carefully lifted the raised panel. 

His mouth fell open like a broken door on the front of a mailbox. There, stacked in neat little plastic-wrapped bundles, were more one hundred dollar bills than Christian had ever seen.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

“Yea… and Franklin, too!”

“Oh my God!” His eyes drank in the sight of so much old currency.

“You said it, Chris.”

The foul chemical stench that poured from the burning car filled his nostrils. It brought him back to reality long enough for him to take his eyes off the money, and look down the driveway.

“Somebody’s coming, Chris. Better close it up.”

He looked at Sheryl and slowly closed the lid. She stared back at him, her steel-blue eyes trying to read his thoughts. It seemed like for a single moment they were like two little kids who somehow were in trouble, but held a wonderful secret between them.

In the distance, the sirens began to wail and became louder as they approached.

“Not a word.” He said softly.

“Pinky swear.” She smiled back at him.

A neighbor from across the street approached them and walked up the driveway. “You call the fire department?”

Christian and Sheryl turned suddenly towards the man. “Uh, yes.” He forced a tight smile at his neighbor from next door. “I called them alright.”

“That thing is really burning. I hope you got insurance.”

“Yes… burning.” He no longer cared about the car across the street being consumed by fire. He was still in shock about Sheryl’s little discovery.

“I saw the whole thing, Chris. The damn thing rolled right out of your garage, cruised right across the street, and exploded when it hit the tree! I was out front splitting logs for my fireplace when that thing just blew up like a bomb! Thank God, you or your little girlfriend weren’t in it!”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Man, that thing is burning!”

“Yea… burning,” Christian replied, as if in a trance.

“Alright, man. Glad you’re okay. I’ll talk to you later. Come by for a beer.”

“Yea… later.”

Christian took Sheryl’s hand as he watched the man walk back down the driveway. He placed his other hand on the suitcase. They both stood there silently as the fire department went to work on what was left of the burning automobile.

“Chris… This is too weird.”

“Yes…” He watched the activity across the street.

“Chris. The Phoenix. The Phoenix!”

“What? What about it?”

“It’s happening.”

“What’s happening?”

“Chris, do you know what the Phoenix is?”

“A city in Arizona?”

“No. Chris.” Sheryl shook her head. “In Phoenician legend, the Phoenix is the spirit bird that burns itself to death in a great fire, only to rise from the ashes of its own destruction to live anew more beautiful than before.”

He stared into her unflinching blue eyes. She smiled. He looked back at what remained of the old Pinto. Smoke rose into the sky and through the trees. Like a spirit escaping its old vessel. 

Now he understood.

Or, so he thought.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Angel with a Broken Wing – Chapter 2

My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.

 

TWO

The next evening, Christian relaxed on the couch watching the news on television. He glanced at his watch.

“Six-thirty? Whoa! I got class tonight.”

He leaped off the sofa, grabbed his textbook off the kitchen table, and headed out the door. He had some difficulty getting the Pinto started, but after several tries, the engine of the old ‘Gas Crisis Classic’ finally turned over.

“Going to work all day and then school at night is brutal. I should have done this right out of high school when I had the time. “I’ll be thirty-five this summer. It’ll take me forever to get my degree.”

The Pinto hesitated and bucked as he pulled into the parking lot of Gloucester County Community College. 

“This car’s a piece of junk! Didn’t they used to say that if you got hit from behind in a Pinto, the thing blew up?”

“The Flinto!”

He parked the car and began the long walk to the main building. He shivered as the frigid February wind whipped across the parking lot. It seemed to go right through his jacket and rattle his bones. 

He got to the door and a blast of warm air poured forth as he opened it, and dashed inside.

The hallway was filled with the sound of students chattering and running to class. It felt like high school to Christian. High school without the lockers.

He suddenly felt old as he trudged past the groups of twenty-year-olds that congregated outside the classrooms. He couldn’t help but notice the abundance of baggy pants, bad haircuts, tattoos, and body piercings.

“What the hell has happened to our culture?”

Christian finally arrived at his classroom and tried the door. 

Locked. He then noticed a note taped to the inside of the window on the door.

PSYCH CLASS CANCELLED DUE TO DEATH IN THE FAMILY

“Yea… Join the club, man. This sucks.”

He turned and headed back down the brightly lit corridor. The walls were lined with bulletin boards displaying upcoming student activities. Activities Christian would never attend. He was nearly to the door when a particular sign caught his eye. It was covered with brightly colored advertisements regarding travel. He stopped for a moment to read the board.

GO ON YOUR DREAM ADVENTURE! TRAVEL TO BEAUTIFUL COLORADO WITH US THIS SUMMER!

“Is it really that good? It can’t be as nice as the pictures. I suppose it’s good for the kids to get involved in something positive.”

“I wish I could go away…”

He continued to read the notes and signs on the board.

DIG UP DINOSAUR BONES!

HELP FEED THE CHILDREN!

BE A BIG BROTHER!

ROOMMATE WANTED!

NEED A RIDE!

“Need a ride?”

It was a small 3×5 card tacked to the corner of the board. Christian pulled it free from the thumbtacks that held it to the corkboard and read it carefully.

I NEED A RIDE!!! GOING WEST, POSSIBLY CALIFORNIA. WILL SHARE EXPENSES. IF INTERESTED, PLEASE CALL (609)555-2602) ASK FOR T.R. JEROP. 

SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY!!!

He read the card again, turning it over in his hand. He glanced up and down the hallway, and not seeing anyone, stuffed the card in his pocket. He walked towards the nearest exit. He stood in the warm vestibule and lit a cigarette before stepping back out into the bitter cold.

“What am I doing?” He made his way along the tree-lined promenade that led to the parking lot. “I should just put the damn thing back. I’m not going anywhere. Maybe I’m just jealous that this free spirit is going somewhere and I’m not. I don’t have the time, or the money to go anywhere. I’ve met so many people that would love to win the lottery and just fly away. This Jerop guy… he’s probably twenty years old, not a care in the world, nothing to tie him down. He just wants to see the country and cruise to the golden coast this summer. Must be nice. I gotta find some way to change my life. Jeezus it’s friggin’ cold out!”

Light snow began to fall as Christian got into the Pinto and drove home.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Angel with a Broken Wing – Chapter 1

My new book, Below the Wheel, drops on June 22. Here’s a little taste over the next 3 days from last year’s novel, Angel with a Broken Wing.

 

ONE

Christian Blackmore sat quietly in the law office of Timmons and Weiss in Miami, Florida. He looked around the room at his mother and three sisters as the executor read the Will for his uncle’s estate.

He ran his fingers through his blonde hair and rubbed his eyes. He still felt hungover from last night after the funeral, but the dark cloud of alcohol was beginning to lift from his head.

“And to my dear nephew, Christian, I leave the following possessions… my entire record collection, because I know how much he loves music. My 1974 Ford Pinto, because I want him to have quality transportation. All of my custom luggage, because I know how much he loves to travel. Finally, my favorite briefcase, so that when he goes off to work, he’ll always think of me! HA, HA.”

“Excuse me, sir… But what’s so funny?”

“I’m not laughing, Christian.”

Mrs. Blackmore interjected. “Mrs. Weiss, I just buried my favorite brother. I think it’s nice that he thought enough of my son to leave him some of his personal belongings. I don’t think your attempt at levity is appropriate.”

“But I didn’t laugh, Ma’am.”

“We all heard you, Weiss. It’s the part about the Pinto, isn’t it?”

“Christian, Please. You don’t understand. It says here: ‘and my favorite briefcase so that he can always think of me when he goes off to work. HA, HA.’ That’s what’s written in the will, the words ‘HA, HA.’ See for yourself.”

Christian snatched the document from the old lawyer’s hand and read it closely.

“It does say that, Mom.”

“I told you…”

Mom… is this some kind of joke?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t know, Christian. I just don’t know.”

The next morning, Christian loaded the Pinto and headed back to his home in Woodbury, New Jersey.  The old ‘gas crisis classic’ held up rather well over the two days it took him to get home. As he drove he had some time to reflect on his life.

“Five years.”

For five years he had worked for Midland Bank. It was a pretty good gig working down at the seashore. Though it was very busy during the summer season, it was dead during the winter months. He had had enough of the resort/retirement community and needed something more. Something that was at least consistent twelve months a year. He had tried to get a transfer within the company to the Philadelphia area. He figured at least there’d be more opportunity and exposure in a more populated area. After months of trying he finally resigned from his position with the bank.

He took a job with a finance company in Turnersville, New Jersey. It was in Gloucester County, a few miles outside Philly on the Jersey side of the Delaware River.

He found that the differences between banks and finance companies were radical. He was asked by management to refer to the firm as financial services, not a finance company.

One day he asked his boss why, and he told Christian that the phrase finance company held a certain negative image.

Christian figured that the job wouldn’t be much different from the one he held at the bank. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was like comparing apples to oranges.

When he managed a branch for the bank his duties were, do your audit and compliance books, open checking and savings accounts, develop new business, oversee branch operations, and most of all, keep your tellers happy.

If you get the occasional customer who wants to borrow money, it’s a no-brainer. If he or she had even one delinquent account on their credit report, you simply denied the request. It was that easy. The bank has the lowest rates, so they only lend money to the best customers.

But what if you had a good reason for your late payments? What if you lost your job, or your child was sick in the hospital and medical bills were piling up?

The bank doesn’t care that bad things happen to good people. Sorry.

So what does this customer do to get a loan? Where can he go to get a loan to help meet the needs of his family?

He goes to a finance company. The customer needs money to buy Christmas presents for his kids, or his daughter needs braces, or maybe she needs tuition for school. Whatever the client needs…Christian is there.

As he navigated the old Pinto North on Interstate 95, He thought of the hundreds of customers he had served over the years at Midland Bank. He visualized the typical customer walking out of his chosen branch where he kept his money after being declined for a loan. The bank where he deposited his paycheck every week. The bank where he had his savings account. The place his wife made her weekly payments into their Christmas Club. The bank where his grandfather renewed his certificates of deposit every six months. This man walks out of his bank and comes across the street to see Christian. Christian Blackmore. Finance Company Man!

He thought about how the meeting would go. Turning it over in his mind. They were all just different players in the same game.

His game.

“Hey Joe, how’s it going?”

“Not good, Chris. My bank just turned me down for a loan. I’ve been banking there since the joint opened!”

“Well Joe, maybe we can help you here.”

“Really? That’d be great!”

“Why were you declined?”

“I got hurt on the job a year ago, and I got behind on some of my payments because I was out of work for a couple of months.”

“Are you current with everybody now?

“You mean up to date on all my bills?”

“Yes.”

“Absolutely.”

“How much do you need to borrow?”

“About $1,500 would do it I guess.”

“Okay, that’s going to be $63 a month for say…18 months?”

“Yea sounds good. Hey, what’s the payment on $2,000?”

“Well Joe… let me get some more info and we’ll see if we can get this done today.”

“Thanks, man!”

Christian took a sip from the paper cup filled with bitter black coffee. He turned up the radio to drown out the hammering of the old engine as it pushed the tiny old Ford through the night.

He continued to relive his daily life as he drove on. His loathing for his job helped keep him alert as he entered his sixteenth hour on the road. He thought about how that very same customer would enter his office the same afternoon to sign papers and receive his check for $2,000.

Pretty amazing, Christian thought as he lit a cigarette. Quick and easy. The client’s happy. He can send his little girl to summer camp or get his leaky roof fixed, or pay off his gambling debt to his bookie in Atlantic City.

Who cares. He’s only got to come up with $100 a month. What a super job. What a great guy Christian Blackmore is. What a satisfying vocation he has chosen. Guy had a need, and he satisfied it. The client had some delinquent payments in the past but he’s current now. Handed him a check the same day. The bank would have taken a week and charged him about 12% had they approved him.

But they didn’t.

But Christian did. He charged Joe what his boss told him to charge on every unsecured loan he made, no matter what the credit score looked like. He charges them all the State Maximum for the state of New Jersey.

That rate is 30%!

30%! That’s only 20% less than the loan sharks in South Philly charge.

Christian thought about his boss. That pig Andy. He could almost hear his voice now… “Don’t lose any business boys. If they balk at the rate, cut it back to 28%. Show ’em we’re flexible.”

“Oh yea, thanks, Andy. They’ll love that rate. Don’t people usually like to have their clothes off when they’re getting screwed?”

Christian knew he needed to get out of this job. He could feel the rage rising in him. He took a deep breath and exhaled so as to not drive faster due to his anger. He spoke out loud to himself in the car.

“They love that low payment I quote them. Yessiree! That low payment is packed with Life, Disability, and even Unemployment insurance. It’s sick! People pay so much in interest and insurance we pack into these loans. We make a fortune from their misfortune. ‘At least we get ’em the cash when they need it.’ Andy says.”

“Yea… but what a price they pay. Jeezus, what I do to these hard-working people every day is criminal. I should just go put on a mini skirt and a pair of fishnets and heels, and just grab a handful of credit applications, and go stand on the corner of Mickle Street and the Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, and peddle my wares with the rest of the hookers!”

Christian maneuvered through the traffic around the beltway in Washington, DC. The little Pinto would sputter and buck whenever he would gun the accelerator. He thought about how a huge part of his job was collecting payments from slow-paying customers. That was the worst part of the job.

“I gotta find another job. As soon as I get back, I’m going to do it. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Damn slow accounts. Calling those people every Tuesday and Thursday night to see if they’ll make a payment on the overpriced loan I made them.”

Christian pushed on for another three hours until he arrived home. He pulled into his driveway. He began unloading his ‘inheritance.’ He was too tired to carry all the junk into the house so he locked it all in the garage, went inside his house, and fell onto his bed to disappear into blissful sleep.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1